National Schools


With TCK families across the world facing school closures in response to COVID-19, UFM Worldwide has compiled some articles, helpful tips and recommended resources. We pray that you will find these useful as you navigate these difficult times, keeping your eyes fixed on Jesus.

This second issue is aimed at missionary parents who are considering sending their children to national schools in their country of service.

Why send children to a National School?

As they consider the best way to help their children learn the language, and integrate into a new culture, many parents choose to use National Schools in their country of service.

Why send children to National School? Here are a few possible reasons…

  • Allows total cultural immersion
  • Speeds up the process of acquiring language
  • Gives access to school-related activities, such as sport
  • Allows opportunities to get to know local friends
  • Provides (hopefully) a positive learning environment
  • Takes the pressure off parents in providing education
  • Frees up time for parents
  • Is usually a low cost option
  • May give extra ministry opportunities
  • Broadens the child’s worldview


What are the Pitfalls to watch for?

  • It can be really difficult for the child to fit in and be accepted
  • Teaching styles may be very different to the norms in the UK
  • Negative rather than positive reinforcement may be used
  • Morals and standards taught may be counter-Christian
  • Class sizes may make it hard for the child to access the help they need
  • Language acquisition to a basic standard may come fairly rapidly, but understanding deeper nuances takes much longer – being fluent is not the same as being bilingual
  • Bullying issues may not be well dealt with, leading to difficult relationships in and out of school


Things to Consider

  • What are the educational goals for the child?
Where is the child likely to complete his or her tertiary education?  If this is in the host country, then national school is the most obvious route.  If this is back in the passport country, then there are more issues to think through.
For example, are the National School qualifications accredited internationally? If not, at what stage will the child begin the process of achieving the necessary level of academic English and equivalent qualifications in order to meet the requirements for tertiary education in the passport country?
  • Is tutoring help available for the child?
The difference between a working knowledge of the everyday language needed to survive in a national school, and the deeper knowledge of the language needed to enjoy studying and feel confident in understanding nuances cannot be overstated. It is generally recognised that most children above the age of 4 or 5 will need extra tutoring help to make this transition.
  • What is the attitude and approach of the school to children for whom the national language is their second language?
It is a good idea to make enquiries, both through official channels and through talking to parents, to find out whether the school welcomes and accommodates non national children.  This can make a huge difference to the child.  Some schools will provide extra tuition in the national language for newcomers, or an assistant to give extra help when needed.
  • Is there any flexibility to combine national school with some home schooling?
Will the school recognise, for example, that your child is already fluent in English, and allow them to complete work suited to their ability during the standard English lessons?  Some parents have been able to send in work for their children to complete during English classes, or been able to withdraw their children for part of the week in order to do some home schooling to keep academic study in English going.

Overcoming the Pitfalls

  • Try to help your child to fit in socially by having play dates with school friends, and getting to know other parents.
  • If it is possible for parents to get involved in the school by volunteering, this can be a good way to build relationships with staff and pupils, get to know what the school is really like on the inside, and break down barriers.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask for tutor help for your child. It may be possible for them to have help if you are able to pay extra or offer English conversation in return, even if this is not provided as standard.
  • If your child is not starting National School at the beginning, don’t rule out asking if they can drop back a school year in order to help them gain the confidence they need in the language.  A positive experience and confidence in their ability to cope will serve them better than trying to fit in at the same level as their peers and feeling stressed and miserable.
  • Be aware that the ethos of the school may be counter-Christian and you will need to unpick some of the ideas and standards that are being taught to your child, whilst still encouraging them to respect school authority.  The influence of the home is much stronger but parents do need to be proactive in teaching biblical truth to children to help them recognise false teaching.
  • Keep the lines of communication open – listen to your child carefully and don’t ignore signs of stress and unhappiness.  Don’t be afraid to talk to the school about issues that could be handled better, in a sensitive and respectful way, making sure to give positive reinforcement just as readily when deserved.
SHARE education services
World Family Education 
See the National Schools section for useful links
Global Connections Resource List

Practical Experience: France

When we moved to France in 2015, our four children were aged from 4 to 10 and spoke no French. We have had them in the French mainstream system since then.

What have been the main advantages?
  • The children learnt French very quickly. They were all fluent-ish French speakers after a year and all fully fluent at the end of two years.
  • We made French friends relatively quickly and felt part of the community. We have had lots of gospel opportunities with school families.
  • The children have a great understanding of what being French means and feels like. They often “think” like French people.
  • We had time to do all of the stuff that comes with moving to a new country and settling in. We had time to spend with the children compensating for some of the downsides of French secular education at home, because we weren’t busy trying to homeschool! I felt like I could be really available for them in the evenings in tough seasons because I could do language study and housework during the day.
What were some disadvantages?
  • The language! Even though our children are fluent, only one of the four is bilingual. The others still find work in French slower and harder than in English. They miss nuance they would have got in English.
  • The culture gap in the playground. The differences between the value system we had taken for granted in English secular school and French secular school are many. Telling the truth is not necessarily valued by parents or even teachers. It is not uncommon for an adult to encourage a child to lie about something. There is a “survival of the fittest” atmosphere in the playground reinforced by teachers who are only present in low numbers to supervise. Physical roughness from teachers towards children is totally normal and accepted. Children talk about sex and adult content frequently and unpleasantly in the playground in ways we hadn’t experienced in England. There isn’t a sense of school “building up” the child and their sense of who they are, school is about “learning the program” and jumping through hoops. Teachers humiliating children is normal.
  • Difference isn’t always well tolerated. We have been told by several teachers about several of our children that they need to work harder just to fit in, and if other kids aren’t kind to them then it’s inevitable because they are a bit different.
  • It’s high pressure! The schools our children have been at (and most French schools) formally compare the children from a young age and most teachers apply a lot of pressure. The work is dry and monotonous and from age 6 they sit up at individual desks: no more story corner, no coloured displays on the walls! They have homework that really eats into the weekend from age 6 onwards.

Lots of this is the stuff that we expected might happen and tried to look out for, but before long our children just felt like it was “normal”. When we noticed an increase in aggression and anger and “tough talk” at home we thought this was just transition tension. Without the ability to have any involvement in the classroom itself, it took a long time for us to realise what was really going on in order to talk about it at home and help the children redefine what was acceptable and what was not. That said, we have managed to find ways to make it work well, and two of our children in particular are very happy in local school.

What do I wish we had known? 

I now advise parents, especially those moving with older children, to step back before moving and have a think about what they are looking for as an upbringing for their children overall (including what they would be doing at home, getting at church, school, peer group etc in their home or sending culture), and then figuring out which of those criteria they will look to the school to fulfill in a new culture, which they can find a way to fulfil at home, which they are happy to let go altogether.
It’s easy to assume that school will be encouraging our children, or teaching them that telling the truth is the right thing to do, or helping them negotiate situations in which they are being badly treated by others. It’s very easy as parents to be frustrated if that doesn’t happen and to spend a lot of time (as I have) saying “in England it would be like x”. But schools in other cultures are not aiming to accomplish the same things that we are used to in a British school!

We try and find ways to compensate for this: our children eat lunch at home so we have extra time with them, we choose after school activities which have a more positive and playful vibe, we try and get involved in school where we can, we structure our Bible teaching times as a family in a way that works with French school, and we make the most of holidays! Sometimes we take our children out of school for a year or so (especially if we feel their Christian growth is being negatively effected) to homeschool and make sure we are accomplishing the things we have decided are the most important for their overall development.

Having children in local schools comes with many joys and a fair few challenges but we have really been blessed by the fruit of our experiences overall!